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Phil's suggestions for Christmas 2012

It has to be said, there is no shortage of games these days - in fact there has been a positive avalanche of them this year, with an element of quantity coming before quality; there are one or two pitfalls to be avoided. Here is a swift run through some that I know and like, a mixture of established favourites and new discoveries. Just click on the links for more details of any that might appeal to you.

To start with the basics, Braggart continues to be a must for any time that several gamers come together over a drink or two, and on that theme, there have been some new characters introduced to Red Dragon Inn (Pooky & Erin) to add options and keep it fresh. Nuts is another ideal bit of light entertainment; Viewpoint has a similar mechanism but without the innuendo, and works very well with two or three players, the others being at their best with a couple more, as is Dixit. These are all ideal after-dinner games. Gubs is sufficiently silly to be best played with the aid if alcohol, Tea Time is a simple game suitable for teetotalers (or indeed children - actually, Gubs is popular with children too.)

I have been most pleased to welcome back Tsuro in its new form, Tsuro of the Seas, with added sea monsters. A game that works well with two players right up to eight is a rare beast, and it is really quick and easy but still satisfying. Fluxx is another that anyone can play, and new variants are always being added to the range, Cthulhu Fluxx being the latest. A new simple game that both Sally and I like is Wrong Chemistry, and on the subject of simple but fun, you still can't go wrong with Marrakech, especially as it looks so attractive. Incan Gold and Hey! that's my Fish have about run out but will hopefully be back soon as they are both favourites.

Dice games have continued their popularity this year, with both Zombie Dice and Martian Dice being back in time for Christmas, and a brand new Power Up expansion for King of Tokyo. The new Pirates vs Ninjas looks tempting, too.

On a different tack, we have always enjoyed race games where players score from the finishing positions of several pieces, and no-one knows which piece is whose, at least at the beginning. We still like Abandon Ship, but it needs quite a big table; the latest game of this type is Go Goblin Go, which not only works very well but also takes up a good deal less space.

I will finish the quick-and-easy section with a mention of Escape, a frantic dice-fest which sounds to those nearby, like a sort of up-rated version of the old game Pit. In truth, that hardly does it justice, for it is right near the top of the list of current best sellers, despite its price for a 10 minute game. It gets played a lot, and the several owners hereabouts are quite sure that it is money well spent. It is a co-op game, with players calling for help instead of offering deals.

Ah yes, co-operative games - increasingly popular, and rightly so. Two of the earliest, Lord of the Rings and Shadows over Camelot, were truly great games but quite hard to get to grips with. The trend recently has been for greater accessibility, Forbidden Island and Flash Point are very easy to play but still have bags of tension, Pandemic and Red November are slightly harder but both very good. Pretty well all the horror and zombie games are co-operative, as might be expected; there are also some fine games that can be played co-operatively or competitively, Conquest of Planet Earth and Castle Panic being two of my favourites. New kids on the block include Atlantis Rising, a card version of Shadows over Camelot, and the semi-cooperative Infiltration, where you help each other getting in, but it is every man for himself getting out.

Co-operative games have the great advantage for beginners that you don't have to know how to play - so long as one person knows the game, you're away, and can learn as you go along. However, the best games designers have got pretty good at making fully competitive games that can be plunged into after a brief look at the rules. All the better if someone can give a precis of the rules, but it is often possible to learn as you go along and still have an enjoyable first game, leaving you keen to have another go and this time develop a strategy relying less on hope. Our recent first game of Palaces of Carrara was like that, we all felt that we were getting the hang of it and were in with a chance of winning until quite late in the game, when it became apparent that one person had got the hang of it much better, leaving the rest of us hungry for a revenge match. The same day we introduced a new player to Power Grid, and as usual he quickly picked up what the game is all about but lack of experience showed; he is looking forward to the next game to put the lessons learned to full effect. Hacienda is very like that; the much more recent Lords of Waterdeep also springs to mind, as do Milestones (a very new one), Kingdom Builder and one of our current favourite quick ones, Space Mission. A level up in complexity takes us to Ginkgopolis, Village, Eminent Domain, Innovation, Ad Astra and Galactic Emperor - I heartily recommend all of these. And there are so many others that I will most happily play, given the time that I so seldom have, I need to write more articles too...

Finally, I must mention two games which do take a bit of extra learning and arguably take an hour longer to play than they should, but are nevertheless among mine and Sally's favourites: Urban Sprawl and Pirates of Nassau. They could scarcely be more different in concept or style, but go to show that you don't know what will float your boat until you give it a try.


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